20 September 2004
South Africa’s telecommunications industry has been shaken up by what industry pundits are calling the most significant development in the country’s telecommunications history.
The “big bang” liberalisation, expected to kick in February 2005, will shake the monopoly of Telkom, SA’s only national fixed-line operator – and could spell cheaper phone calls for consumers and create new opportunities in the Internet industry.
A key change to the current regulations is that value-added network service providers will be permitted to carry Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). As a result, consumers will be able to make international calls for significantly less than a Telkom call.
According to Business Day, operators will also no longer be forced to lease their networks from Telkom at its monopoly market rates, and are likely to set up their own wireless-based networks or use satellite services.
Cellular operators Vodacom, MTN and Cell C will also be free to lease their network backbone from other providers.
Ringing the changes, Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri told a parliamentary media briefing in September that Telkom would have to pursue business opportunities more aggressively to retain profits in an industry that is set to become “very robust” and “very competitive”.
“[The current environment] has caused mobile operators to be totally reliant on what Telkom charges them for provision of such fixed lines to interconnect”, Matsepe-Casaburri said. “It is one of the contributors to prevailing high costs.”
According to Business Day, businesses that run private networks for their own communication needs will be able to resell any spare capacity. This is expected to create optimal use of South Africa’s infrastructure and increase telecommunications access to other users.
The industry has hailed the changes as a bold step and “excellent news for consumers”.
It is expected that local calls in the future will be free – providing a great benefit to the poor and to the economy as a whole.
SouthAfrica. info reporter